Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Pigoon, balloon, pigoon, balloon"

Pigoons
Deviant Art

I'm currently reading Oryx and Crake, the first volume of Margaret Atwood's dystopian trilogy, and though I wasn't sure I'd like it -- as with her Handmaiden's Tale, which I appreciated but did not truly enjoy -- I actually am caught up in the story, which is rather frightening in a number of ways, particularly in its depiction of transgenic pigs called pigoons:
The goal of the pigoon project was to grow an assortment of foolproof human-tissue organs in a transgenic knockout pig host -- organs that would transplant smoothly and avoid rejection, but would also be able to fend off attacks by opportunistic microbes and viruses, of which there were more strains every year. A rapid-maturity gene was spliced in so the pigoon kidneys and livers and hearts would be ready sooner, and now they were perfecting a pigoon that could grow five or six kidneys at a time. Such a host animal could be reaped of its extra kidneys; then, rather than being destroyed, it could keep on living and grow more organs, much as a lobster could grow another claw to replace a missing one. (page 25)
That sort of transgenic research is going on in our real world, so the dystopian future is readily conceivable. Yet, the pigoons seem more intelligent than ordinary pigs, in the eyes of five-year-old Jimmy (who is fated to survive and experience the post-apocalyptic world):
But the adults were slightly frightening, with their runny noses and tiny, white-lashed pink eyes. They glanced up at him as if they saw him, really saw him, and might have plans for him later. (page 29)
The artist Jason Courtney has imagined the appearance of the pigoons, though his above image of the creature would seem to be a composite one that draws upon various passages in the novel, for the pigoons little Jimmy saw were still far more pig-like. The artist may have been thinking of a later passage:
"It's the neuro-regeneration project. We now have genuine human neocortex tissue growing in a pigoon. Finally, after all those duds! Think of the possibilities, for stroke victims, and . . ." (page 63)
This is from Jimmy's teenage years, though perhaps some of the earlier experiments were not total neuro-regenerative failures, given the apparent intelligence noticed by Jimmy. As a much older man living in the post-apocalyptic wilds (an earlier passage, but a later point in the story), Jimmy learns that he has to face untamed pigoons, apparently grown even more intelligent, if we can assume that human neocortex tissue is now growing in their brains:
[O]ne morning he'd woken to find three pigoons gazing in at him through the plastic. One was a male; he thought he could see the gleaming point of a white tusk. Pigoons were supposed to be tusk-free, but maybe they were reverting to type now they'd gone feral, a fast-forward process considering their rapid-maturity genes. He'd shouted at them and waved his arms and they'd run off, but who could tell what they might do the next time they came around? (page 33)
And there must be even worse transgenic creatures roaming these future badlands . . .

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18 Comments:

At 6:14 AM, Blogger dhr said...

The most frightening dystopia I've read is a short sci-fi story by the Polish scientist and writer Marek S. Huberath, whose American title was “Yoo Retoont, Sneogg. Ay Noo," that's a sentence badly pronounced by one of the HUMAN tissue-provider in speaking to another.

 
At 6:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

What does the sentence mean?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:57 PM, Blogger dhr said...

"You returned, Snorg. I knew [you would]."

 
At 6:22 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

So I thought . . . But who is Snorg?

Jeffery Hodges

@ @ @

 
At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From back in the days of "Books Only" I recall reading (non-fiction) some snippet where the Jewish prohibition against eating pork was rooted in a tradition of pigs being a "spinoff" from humans.

And as to smart birds - well, if I was asked "Which animal JK would you be the likeliest to see in a 'Tools 4 Us' shopping?"

I'd reply, "Birds surely, likely a crow."

JK

 
At 8:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I favor parrots.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:50 PM, Blogger Able said...

Since we're into an Attwood dystopian theme, are you planning to read 'Year of the Flood' and 'MaddAddam' (the second and third books of the trilogy begun with Oryx and Crake)?

As a farm boy, you have no idea what (at aged 6) getting 'stuck' in a sty with a 'slightly miffed' boar is like. That and the fact that pigs are already the smartest of the domestic animals (and I'm including dogs here) and Oryx and Crake was the stuff of nightmares.

Personally I'd go with the 'Big Bang Theory' 'fish night-lights' - there are already green glow-in-the-dark pigs in China after all.

 
At 3:48 AM, Blogger dhr said...

Snorg is the male protagonist, who tries to save a woman from her/their doom: that's when she says that. They both have physical and psychic disablements. The story is very well written, but - or rather, just for this reason - is disturbing.

 
At 6:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Able, I know what you mean about pigs. Fortunately, I was forewarned to stay far from within the pigpen when I had to slop the hogs!

I also once saw a hog go after a kitten . . .

Yes, I want to read the other two volumes.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:17 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Dario, I avoid books with unhappy endings . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:49 PM, Blogger dhr said...

I avoid books with unhappy endings

So, you never read the Book of Prophet Isaiah!

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I read it as a chapter in a longer story . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:39 PM, Blogger dhr said...

as a chapter in a longer story . . .

. . . with an apocalyptic end :-D

 
At 2:56 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

What sort of book would refuse to reveal its secrets at the end?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:17 PM, Blogger dhr said...

Well, Gordon Pym, for example.

 
At 6:28 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

The author just couldn't wrap it all up, eh?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:09 PM, Blogger dhr said...

My opinion is that, in this case, it's not about an unfinished work, but a 'never-ending' story. I can't imagine what Poe could add after that vision: it would have simply spoiled it.

 
At 10:45 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Sort of like this comment thread . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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